Review: The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes

Title: The Beautiful Mother

Author: Katherine Scholes

Published: March 31st 2020, Viking

Read: April 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Au


My Thoughts:

Set in Tanzania during the 1970’s The Beautiful Mother by Katherine Scholes centre’s around archaeologist Essie, who has lived at the Magadi Research Camp since her marriage to fellow archaeologist Ian Lawrence, five years earlier. The Camp, first founded by Ian’s father, and still home to his mother, Julia, has been the source of a number of valuable finds, but with no recent significant discoveries, funds are beginning to dry up. The situation is already tense as the Lawrence’s attempt to secure a new patron to continue their search for Homo Erectus, so when Essie inexplicably returns from a scouting trip with an orphaned Hadza infant whom she is to take care of for four months, the future of the Camp is threatened.

Scholes explores a number of themes in The Beautiful Mother. One of the most significant examines universal questions about motherhood as Essie cares for the baby girl she names Mara. It’s a joy to be part of her journey as she opens her heart to Mara, and gains new perspective about who she is and what she wants.

Essie’s relationship with Mara also allows the author to delve into the dynamics of marriage and family as the infant’s presence drives a wedge between Essie, Ian, and Julia. The baby stirs up repressed feelings about the loss of Julia’s youngest son who disappeared as a toddler at Magadi, and Ian resents the changes Mara effects in his previously pliant wife.

Also of importance in the novel is the author’s exploration of home and belonging. This is particularly shown through the character of Essie’s assistant, Simon, who is torn between his perception of himself as a ‘modern’ Tanzanian, and his birthright as as a member of the Hadza.

Scholes descriptions of the Tanzanian landscape are breathtakingly vivid from the red rocky desert plains of Magadi to the majesty of Ol Doinyo Lengai, an ever grumbling volcano, and the lake, a nesting ground for a flock of flamingos. I found it easy to visualise the layout of the Camp, it’s work tables cluttered with tools and specimens, and the careful grids of the nearby the dig sites. The people too are easy to imagine from Mara’s bright eyes, to the African Camp workers, and the women of the nearby Maasai village.

A well told, evocative novel The Beautiful Mother is sure to engage both interest and emotion.


Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Amanda Barrett
    Apr 15, 2020 @ 07:56:02

    Great review Shelleyrae! I’m glad this one is on my review pile.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Helen Murdoch
    Apr 15, 2020 @ 09:15:05

    My ex-husband is from Tanzania so I would probably find this one interesting.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Kyles
    Apr 15, 2020 @ 10:33:12

    Sounds like an engrossing read….adding it to my pile 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Marg
    Apr 15, 2020 @ 20:09:40

    I love books set in Africa, so this author always catches my attention.

    Liked by 1 person


  5. Tina
    Apr 16, 2020 @ 00:50:18

    Lots of dynamics here with this plot. Lovely setting too.

    Liked by 1 person


  6. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #SundayPost #SundaySalon | book'd out

I want to know what you think! Your comments are appreciated.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s